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What Is Informed Consent?

My son is having surgery in a few weeks. The nurses have given us pamphlets and educational materials to learn more about it, in preparation for something called “informed consent.” What does this mean?
– Ned

Informed consent is a legal term. It means that you are fully aware of the facts of a certain situation (in this case, a surgical procedure) before agreeing to it. In order to obtain informed consent, your doctor will discuss certain things with you:

  • your child’s diagnosis
  • details about the procedure or treatment, and why it is being recommended
  • the risks and benefits involved
  • any possible alternative treatments
  • the risks and benefits of any alternatives
  • the risks and benefits of NOT undergoing the treatment or procedure

During the discussion, you will have a chance to ask questions. Asking questions is your right and responsibility — remember, there’s no such thing as a silly question. You’ll be asked to sign a written consent form before the surgery is performed. If you can’t be there to sign the form, you’ll be contacted by phone to give your consent.

In rare emergencies, a parent may not be available to give consent for a treatment or procedure for a young child — for example, in the case of an unconscious patient who comes into the emergency room. In these cases, doctors will operate using the principle of “presumed”or “implied”consent, using their professional judgment to do what is best for the child.

Reviewed by: Charles D. Vinocur, MD
Date reviewed: May 2012